Day 624 – Protecting the environment?

I know. I know I wrote this and I know got a lot of abuse. I know it would be better if we could get away without using fossil fuels (I even said that in the post). But we don’t have that luxury yet. So this may come across as somewhat hypocritical, but while we’re trying to get our ducks in a row, we’re topping endangered species, despite numerous warnings that this would happen and – more worryingly – despite mitigation measures being put in place to prevent it happening. And that didn’t happen when previous seismic surveys were carried out off the coast of SA.

So there is a difference.

These are amazing birds, silently gliding just a couple of metres over the fynbos while hunting. There is a pair that live near the Southernmost Point of Africa, and I love to watch their incredible agility in the wind there as they seek out mice or a mongoose or two for lunch.

But yes, when two male Black Harriers from a population of just 1000 (that’s 1000 in total, not 1000 males) die in 24 hours – and we only know about it because they were both tagged – something is very wrong.

How many untagged others were killed on the same day? And how many the day before that?

One sadly killed while roosting in a cereal field. And one killed by a wind turbine.

I recognise the need for renewable energy. I hate looking at wind turbines, but I respect the incredible engineering that goes into making a wind farm work. I am, however, getting a bit pissed off at them being put in areas like Caledon and Bredasdorp which are known as areas in which populations of endangered birds live (Blue Cranes and Black Harriers, for example).

Thankfully, there is also precedent for them not being put in environmentally sensitive areas, but that didn’t help the guy above, did it? Because the way that the turbine companies get around that sort of restriction is by employing mitigation measures:

The wind farm is the first to run a shutdown-on-demand programme – where observers monitor bird movement around the wind turbines seven days a week, and can radio-in to instruct a specific turbine’s shutdown should a priority species, including a Black Harrier fly close to a turbine. Turbines are shut down for other red data species including Martial Eagles and Cape Vultures (from Potberg).

But those measures clearly didn’t help the guy above either. And 179 shutdowns in just over 300 days of operation suggests to me that it’s not just the mitigation measures that are wrong (because it’s likely they have failed numerous times with untagged birds): it’s the siting of the wind farm.
But why should we care about windfarms being put in an area where endangered Black Harriers live? Well:

Unpublished modelling data from Dr Rob Simmons and Dr Francisco Cervantes Peralta of the University of Cape Town has found that if three adult Black Harriers are killed every year by wind turbines around South Africa, the species will be extinct in 100 years. Should five birds be killed by turbines per year, then Black Harriers will be extinct in just 75 years.

Of course, they were looking at wind turbines, but nature doesn’t care how the birds die, so both of those deaths recorded above will count towards Black Harriers dying out sooner. And again, we only know about these ones because they were tagged and tracked. We don’t know if they were the only ones to be killed yesterday or if there were 1, 2 or 3 others. And those estimates on extinction above are based on deaths per year.

So where is the outrage like we saw for the Shell thing? Where are the hashtags, the protests, the calls to boycott, the angry surfers on Muizenberg beach? Because you surely can’t ignore the bad side of renewable energy simply because it’s renewable energy, can you?

Can you?